DAY 158: The circuit-breaker

January 8th, 2016 § 0 comments

I was perhaps too hopeful in predicting that global catastrophe was not around the corner. My finance-savvy friend Mona Dohle (pictured), well-known on the London-Calais run, has been 10898302_10205772696020315_7231868337887763225_nexplaining in terms which even I can almost understand why the fact that China has scrapped the ‘circuit-breaker’ (断路器 or Duànlù qì in pinyin) has thrown the markets into a turmoil which will make 2008 look like the South Sea Bubble. Any electrician should have told the celestial bankers that the circuit breaker is there for a reason, and if you scrap it, you’ll blow a fuse. As Chairman Mao put is, ‘A single spark can cause a prairie fire’. I hastily took out my yarrowstalks, threw the I Ching to find what was in store, and came up with hexagram 29, K’an the Abysmal

‘beautiful but scary’ according to one commentator. I offer this to the world’s financial system, but as a diagnosis rather than a solution.

Meanwhile, I myself have spent a rewarding three days in Calais. I cannot recommend this place too much as a destination for brief city breaks (if it’s in order to call Calais a ‘city’). It is, as everyone says, on our doorstep so there’s no excuse for ignoring it. So why not go there? Unlike any similar place I know, you will be welcomed as a volunteer at the warehouse 56 rue Clément Ader. No one asks you about your skills, you need none no references, there are no forms to fill in. I can’t think of the number of voluntary organizations who have turned me away where L’ Auberge welcomed me.  You get a yellow hi-viz jacket (to distinguish you from the administrative grades, who wear orange ones, and will tell you what to do); and set to work sorting shoes,1929582_1503855053243899_2472881700185686298_n-1 or children’s clothes, or teapots into boxes. The company is delightful, naturally free from the usual taint of neoliberalism, let alone racism. And if you are old enough to blench at the thought of sleeping in a tent the Belazur Hotel in the central square of Calais is clean and comfortable; and the staff seem to welcome volunteers from the jungle. Indeed, they apparently speak Arabic. When you tire of sorting clothes, you may find someone who will give you a lift to the jungle – where there are still needs, but different ones.

Of course I wouldn’t dream of living in the jungle in Calais – who would, if they had any choice? It’s damp, cold, and in constant danger of teargas attacks from the police it’s a community, as many of those there agree, but a community under siege and we must work to help the inhabitants to find the freedom which our government denies them. And if this description applies to Calais, conditions are much worse at Dunkirk, let alone the Greek islands. To underline that point, here is Isabella Tomico Ellis’ report (she is posting a series) from Chios:

Update from Chios:

It was a busy night for boats on the island last night, with around 25 arrivals throughout the last 24 hours. It was also my first night patrolling after the bad weather that left it near impossible to cross over from Turkey.

As some of the first boats came in, men, women, children and babies came off in varying states. Many babies were in bad shape – freezing cold and crying for their mothers. The incredible Spanish life guards have to attend to the whole island, since boats arrive at the same time all around. In their treatment van there is only enough room for maybe six or seven children and adults at once. This means that as soon as people who are seriously cold are a little warmer, they must move on to make space for others from the next boat. It feels surreal pushing out children who aren’t ready but you know the next one requires the help more. It’s a mass of emergency blankets, wet clothes, coughing and crying. Volunteers distribute generous donations of clothing but there is always a shortage – so with such a mass of hardship they are necessarily limited.

One very quiet, freezing woman stayed back as others were given clothes. Later, she explained how she had made the journey completely alone from Syria and that her family were still in Iraq; her gratitude and grace was unbelievable.

Throughout the long night, people were found all over Chios, people who hadn’t managed to be picked up as they had landed ashore. Many of them were soaking and freezing, including older people and very young children. As the boats continued to come, the disturbing reality of what is going on in Europe becomes evermore vivid. As you attend people in desperate need, helping them undress in the most dignified way possible and aiding the children, one after another, you just have to accept the terrible reality. But this is far from acceptable, it’s a humanitarian disaster of grave proportions. What’s even more shocking – is that Europe has more than enough resources to deal with it; but instead, it’s left to volunteers and donators to hand out a change of clothes, socks with plastic bags over them since there are no shoes for many people, rationed baby wipes, juice boxes and bananas.

The people greet you with gratitude and shock but it feels utterly humbling to be thanked by someone for merely providing them with such basic and meagre care. The volunteers here are incredible. Each treating the refugees with huge care and love, but it’s only what they deserve. If we don’t all come together during this terrible time, by continuing to help, such as donating warm jumpers, trousers and socks for these people the effects will be even more catastrophic than they already are. Ultimately, only by pushing governments to change strategy will this international crisis be properly remedied.

At sunrise, as I left a young Syrian girl in the port, a translator explained that the child had asked me not to leave and since she was still wrapped in her foil blanket, we joked together, as I understood nothing and pointed out things in the sky. The only words she knew were ‘I love you’. She was the sweetest girl and one of the many hundreds of thousands facing disgraceful uncertainty at Europe’s closed borders. She asked if we would see each other again, I hope she will find a home in a European city; she practised her alphabet and numbers in English, as she shivered in the early hours of the morning. But she is also one of the lucky ones, the number of deaths from drowning increase every day… it’s impossible to comprehend such a huge loss of life that could so easily be halted.

The only picture that needs to be shown from last night, is not of the refugees who have already suffered such massive dehumanisation, but this one – of foil-blanketed people shocked and grateful for their safety, out of focus and extremely cold.

Good night and please, I beg you, keep supporting our brothers and sisters who desperately need our help. XX

Isabella Tomico Ellis's photo.
I think an appropriate poem is the Anglo-Saxon ‘The Seafarer; I’ve given the first 48 lines only (it does go on rather); and appended a modern translation not the Ezra Pound one.
Mæg ic be me sylfum I can make a true song
soðgied wrecan, about me myself,
siþas secgan, tell my travels,
hu ic geswincdagum how I often endured
earfoðhwile days of struggle,
oft þrowade, troublesome times,
4a bitre breostceare [how I] have suffered
gebiden hæbbe, grim sorrow at heart,
gecunnad in ceole have known in the ship
cearselda fela, many worries [abodes of care],
atol yþa gewealc, the terrible tossing of the waves,
þær mec oft bigeat where the anxious night watch
nearo nihtwaco often took me
æt nacan stefnan, at the ship’s prow,
8a þonne he be clifum cnossað. when it tossed near the cliffs.
Calde geþrungen Fettered by cold
wæron mine fet, were my feet,
forste gebunden bound by frost
caldum clommum, in cold clasps,
þær þa ceare seofedun where then cares seethed
hat ymb heortan; hot about my heart –
hungor innan slat a hunger tears from within
12a merewerges mod. the sea-weary soul.
Þæt se mon ne wat This the man does not know
þe him on foldan for whom on land
fægrost limpeð, it turns out most favourably,
hu ic earmcearig how I, wretched and sorrowful,
iscealdne sæ on the ice-cold sea
winter wunade dwelt for a winter
wræccan lastum, in the paths of exile,
16a winemægum bidroren, bereft of friendly kinsmen,
bihongen hrimgicelum; hung about with icicles;
hægl scurum fleag. hail flew in showers.
þær ic ne gehyrde There I heard nothing
butan hlimman sæ, but the roaring sea,
iscaldne wæg. the ice-cold wave.
Hwilum ylfete song At times the swan’s song
20a dyde ic me to gomene, I took to myself as pleasure,
ganotes hleoþor the gannet’s noise
ond huilpan sweg and the voice of the curlew
fore hleahtor wera, instead of the laughter of men,
mæw singende the singing gull
fore medodrince. instead of the drinking of mead.
Stormas þær stanclifu beotan, Storms there beat the stony cliffs,
þær him stearn oncwæð, where the tern spoke,
24a isigfeþera; icy-feathered;
ful oft þæt earn bigeal, always the eagle cried at it,
urigfeþra; dewy-feathered;
nænig hleomæga no cheerful kinsmen
feasceaftig ferð can comfort
frefran meahte. the poor soul.
Forþon him gelyfeð lyt, Indeed he credits it little,
se þe ah lifes wyn the one who has the joys of life,
28a gebiden in burgum, dwells in the city,
bealosiþa hwon, far from terrible journey,
wlonc ond wingal, proud and wanton with wine,
hu ic werig oft how I, weary, often
in brimlade have had to endure
bidan sceolde. in the sea-paths.
Nap nihtscua, The shadows of night darkened,
norþan sniwde, it snowed from the north,
32a hrim hrusan bond, frost bound the ground,
hægl feol on eorþan, hail fell on the earth,
corna caldast. coldest of grains.
Forþon cnyssað nu Indeed, now they are troubled,
heortan geþohtas the thoughts of my heart,
þæt ic hean streamas, that I myself should strive with
sealtyþa gelac the high streams,
sylf cunnige – the tossing of salt waves –
36a monað modes lust the wish of my heart urges
mæla gehwylce all the time
ferð to feran, my spirit to go forth,
þæt ic feor heonan that I, far from here,
elþeodigra should seek the homeland
eard gesece – of a foreign people –
Forþon nis þæs modwlonc Indeed there is not so proud-spirited
mon ofer eorþan, a man in the world,
40a ne his gifena þæs god, nor so generous of gifts,
ne in geoguþe to þæs hwæt, nor so bold in his youth,
ne in his dædum to þæs deor, nor so brave in his deeds,
ne him his dryhten to þæs hold, nor so dear to his lord,
þæt he a his sæfore that he never in his seafaring
sorge næbbe, has a worry,
to hwon hine Dryhten as to what his Lord
gedon wille. will do to him.
44a Ne biþ him to hearpan hyge Not for him is the sound of the harp
ne to hringþege nor the giving of rings
ne to wife wyn nor pleasure in woman
ne to worulde hyht nor worldly glory –
ne ymbe owiht elles nor anything at all
nefne ymb yða gewealc; unless the tossing of waves;
ac a hafað longunge but he always has a longing,
se þe on lagu fundað. he who strives on the waves.


I cover the waterfront

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